Hong Kong comedy Men On The Dragon is about how age betrays manhood

John Lui

Veteran actor Francis Ng in Men On The Dragon. PHOTO: CATHAY CINEPLEXES



92 minutes/Opens Aug 2/3 stars

The story: A telecoms company forms a dragon boat team, to be crewed by a motley bunch of employees. Among them are four middle-aged men, each dealing with a personal crisis. Each man will have to find his own set of answers, helped by friendships found in competitive rowing.

Now that mooncakes are on the menu, what better way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival than a movie about dragon boat racing?

In Singapore and other parts of Asia, the celebrations tend to focus on children and food, but this bittersweet comedy about how age betrays manhood is strictly for adults.

The Hong Kong men - three blue-collar technicians, one executive - find that for men of a certain age, there are no simple answers, and the models of virility they grew up with no longer work.

To drive home the point, writer-director Sunny Chan has main character Lung (veteran actor Francis Ng, with a bleached perm) idolise the tough guys of gangster classic A Better Tomorrow (1986). But the woman he loves wants more than a man who can take a bullet for her. She wants something much harder to give - emotional openness.

And so it goes with the rest of men. William (Tony Wu Tsz Tung) is a one-time sports hero who cannot get any respect; Shuk Yee (Poon Chan Leung) has a marriage marred by bickering between his Mandarin-speaking wife and Cantonese mother; while white-collar executive Tai (Kenny Wong) suspects that his wife might have a lover.

Film-maker Chan strikes a good balance between sentimentality and toughness in his directorial debut, though his writing resume includes mass-appeal hits like Monster Hunt 2 (2018).

Much of the male angst is self-inflicted, mostly stemming from the inability to understand the rising expectations of the modern Hong Kong woman. Hong Kong itself conspires to make life hard for men in mid-life. Short-term goals, like affordable apartments and Andy Lau concert tickets are as elusive as long term ones. In this landscape, there are no fairy tale endings, only the happiness that comes from taking a hit to the gut and learning how to smile through it.

The jokes, too, have a gallows dryness typical of Hong Kong, though it is hard to say how much of it will survive the Mandarin dub that will be screened in cinemas here (the original Cantonese version was screened for this reviewer).

Underneath the slice-of-live realness however, there is a standard feelgood structure. Chan has the good sense to couch the message of uplift in action, not speeches, making this effort a notch above the mass of films about downcast blokes who find their joy in sports.

Watch the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRDEnzRoHY

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